Maker transforms a vintage toolbox into a portable 3D printer


This vintage toolbox contains a fully-functional 3D printer along with the filament, spool holder and a power supply.


A hammer. A screwdriver. A wrench. A pair of pliers. Those are things you’d typically find in any handyman or DIYer’s toolbox. A 3D printer? Not likely. However, if it’s up to one Florida-based bearings company, that may soon change.

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That’s because Chad Bridgewater of Boca Bearings recently upcycled a vintage “Blower Repair Kit” toolbox by outfitting it with its very own portable and collapsible 3D printer. While there have been several attempts to create an on-the-go additive manufacturing machine inside a suitcase, this is certainly a first. Not to mention, it will certainly look a whole lot better sitting on a workbench.

“One of the main features that makes this toolbox a good candidate for a printer over other toolboxes is its fold-down front. A spectator is able to view the print from both the top and the front while also allowing extra room for the print bed,” its creators write.

To start, Bridgewater devised a series of mockups to determine what the end result would look like. He employed a 6” x 9” piece of ABS plastic that would serve as his print bed. While prototyping the machine, he decided that the the X and Y-axis would be used to command the bed, while the hotend would be controlled by the Z-axis. Knowing this, he crafted a crude model of the X and Y-axis with parts that he had lying around his studio, and fitted the bed with some linear bearings, a precision cut drill rod and other recycled 3D-printed pieces from previous builds. Once the X and Y-axis were in place, the Maker was able to figure out where the stepper motors might be mounted.

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Using the measurements based on his rough draft, Bridgewater began the process of 3D modeling his working model with the help of Rhino. During this stage, he used the program to tighten the tolerances of his design as well.

With a final 3D model of the working assembly, the Maker began the fabrication phase of the project. For this, the majority of the components for the 3D printer were built by hand and welded using measurements referenced from the Rhino model, or were 3D-printed altogether using the actual CAD data and his shop’s AVR based MakerBot Replicator 2. To ensure that the 3D prints were ready to be used as final, fully-functioning parts, Bridgewater put them on the buffer and cleaned them up with some dish soap and a toothbrush. He then sprayed the frame with Harley Black Crinkle from Powder By the Pound, and proceeded to wash and wax the box before installing its components.

“For the bed I used two pieces of aluminum. The top sheet will be the print bed and will be supported by 4 springs that are attached to a piece of aluminum below that. I used my 1930’s Delta bandsaw to cut them out and my early Hamilton and Delta drill presses for the mounts. To make sure all the holes lined up, I used a divider to mark the holes at an equal distance. I then taped both sheets together and drilled them at the same time,” he explains.

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From there, Bridgewater put the printer through a rigorous testing process. Once all of the parts had been cleaned, he finalized the assembly by wiring all of the necessary electronics, which were driven by an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) and running Marlin firmware.

Beyond that, the Maker installed a 3D printer power supply from Lulzbot, and made a small hole in the side of the toolbox so the power cord could remain plugged in even if the box was closed. After a few minor tweaks, final calibrations and test prints, it was good to go! Interested? You can find an exhaustive breakdown of the multi-step build on Boca Bearings’ blog here.

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